In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked sitting Calcutta High Court judge Justice C S Karnan to appear in person before it and explain as to why contempt proceedings be not initiated against him and forthwith restrained him from undertaking judicial and administrative work.
“Issue notice to Justice C S Karnan. Returnable on February 13. Shree Justice C S Karnan shall forthwith refrain from handling any judicial or administrative work as may have been assigned to him,” a seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar said.
“He is also directed to return all judicial and administrative files in his possession to the Registrar General of the High Court immediately,” the bench also comprising Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph said.
It said, “Shree Justice C S Karnan shall remain present in person on next date to show cause.”
The bench, meanwhile, directed the apex court registry to ensure that the copy of its order be served on Justice Karnan during the course of the day and listed the suo motu contempt petition against him for further hearing on February 13.
At the outset, Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi referred to the nature of public communications allegedly undertaken by Justice Karnan and said they are “slanderous” and “disparaging” to the system of administration of justice.
He urged the bench that it can direct Chief Justice of the High Court to restrain the judge concerned from taking up judicial and administrative work.
The AG referred to constitutional provisions and said that the apex court can take judicial note of the matter and is empowered to pass such an order.
“This court has to set an example when it comes to administration of justice,” he said, adding, “In exercise of the contempt jurisdiction, the Supreme Court can ask the Chief Justice of High Court not to assign administrative and judicial work to Justice Karnan.
The court took note of his submissions and said that it has to be established whether Justice Karnan has undertaken the communications.
“We must be as careful as we can,” the court said.
“It is the first time we will act against a sitting High Court judge and have to be very careful with what we settle as a precedent for times to come,” it said.
The apex court has turned the alleged contemptuous letters written by Justice Karnan against the Madras HC Chief Justice which were addressed to the CJI, Prime Minister and others, into contempt proceedings against him.
He was transferred from the Madras HC to the Calcutta HC for his alleged contemptuous conduct.